News

Menlo Park: CEQA prevents expediting fire station remodel

Fire district votes to spend no more money on Station 6 renovation

This is an expanded version of a story.

Seven years in the planning, the redevelopment of Fire Station 6 on two lots at Oak Grove Avenue and Hoover Street in Menlo Park may now be abandoned by the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

Citing a protracted planning process and the city's refusal to expedite the permits before a possible specific plan-altering ballot initiative could take effect, the fire board directors voted 3-0-1 on June 30 to look elsewhere for a site to construct a new fire station downtown. Board member Charles Bernstein was absent and Virginia Chang Kiraly abstained, saying she wanted the full board present to discuss alternatives.

"After 7 years of working to replace Station 6 we have gotten nowhere while in half that time we will have built a brand new and dramatically better station in East Palo Alto with the full support and assistance of the City of East Palo Alto," director Peter Carpenter said in an email after the vote.

"After a full discussion the Fire Board voted ... to make no further expenditures for the replacement of Station 6 at the Oak Grove site and to consider alternative sites which will allow us to fulfill our obligation to serve the downtown area," Mr. Carpenter said.

The parcels that were slated for a renovated station straddle the boundary of the specific plan, with 700 Oak Grove on the inside and 1231 Hoover St. outside. The fire board discussed three options: Proceed as planned despite the potential complications; eliminate the lot merger and process the project as two developments on two lots; and find a new replacement site entirely outside the specific plan's boundaries.

At issue is whether the initiative proposed by grassroots coalition Save Menlo would require a city-wide vote to change the boundaries of the specific plan to incorporate both parcels, so that a merged lot would be subject to only a single set of zoning regulations.

The initiative includes clauses that would, within the specific plan's boundaries, restrict office space for individual projects to 100,000 square feet; limit total new office space to 240,820 square feet; and cap overall new, nonresidential development to 474,000 square feet.

In addition, voter approval would be required to revise the ordinance, including its definitions, or to allow projects that would exceed the nonresidential development limits.

Initiative co-sponsor Patti Fry and supporters Steve Schmidt and George Fisher spoke during the board meeting.

Saying that the initiative has nothing to do with the district's issues with renovating the station, Ms. Fry commented: "We would encourage you to do what's right. We want to support our fire station."

Mr. Schmidt agreed. There is no reason the district couldn't rebuild the way it wants should the initiative pass, he said, and to move the station elsewhere, partly out of spite, would deprive portions of Menlo Park from the protection offered by having the facility located centrally in downtown.

"It's not in the interests of residents or fire district to be involved in a petty political contest over talking points in November," he commented.

They asked, why not go with the option that doesn't involve merging the parcels? But the district representatives responded that that would lead to a suboptimal station squeezed into a too-small lot.

Taking a different tack, Mr. Fisher stated that he thought Mr. Carpenter should be recused from the discussion on grounds that his anti-initiative stance created a conflict of interest.

District representatives replied that since the director has no financial interests related to Station 6, and that the board isn't voting on the initiative anyway, recusal was unnecessary.

View from the city

According to the city's staff, the district's request in May to expedite the station's remodel so that project approvals would become effective this year was impossible because of state law.

"Ultimately, the timeline on the Fire Station 6 process is primarily being dictated by the (California Environmental Quality Act) requirements," said Senior Planner Thomas Rogers in an email to the Almanac. The specialized work needed, combined with staff shortages, led to the selection of a consultant -- GHD -- to do an $84,220 CEQA analysis, which the council approved in May.

"The final actions on this project are projected for December, and are driven by the preceding CEQA analysis requirements," Mr. Rogers said, noting that public comment deadlines are not up to the city's discretion.

He added that GHD's schedule had the fire district's approval before it went to the council. "In general, I believe the Planning Division has been responsive to the Fire District throughout this overall process, and has moved things along as the District has addressed the City's requirements."

However, the initiative qualified for the November ballot after the consultant was hired. According to the fire district staff's report for the June 30 board meeting, if the initiative passes and the city decides the new regulations apply to the Station 6 remodel, the district would either have to fight that decision in court or hold a special election at an estimated cost of $95,000 in related expenses.

With the decision to look for an alternate site, the board noted that it was essentially regarding the money spent by the district on the GHD contract as a sunk cost.

Comments

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 8, 2014 at 9:48 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

George Fisher, in the presence of Steve Schmidt, was more constructive in proposing to me during the break in the last Fire Board meeting that they could ask the City Council to place a companion referendum on the November ballot which would merge the Oak Grove and Hoover parcels inside a revised Downtown ECR Specific Plan area and provided it with both voter approved zoning and voter approved development standards that would permit Station 6 to be rebuilt at its current location.

We we will see in the Lanza/Fry supporters really want to clean up the mess created by this unintended consequences of their poorly worded initiative or if the are prepared to stand idly by while this unresolved mess continues..


Posted by Brian, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 8, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Brian is a registered user.

Peter,

You should recuse yourself, it is obvious you are bias and your view are tainted by a deep hatred of the initiative. You don't seem to think that the voters should have a say in their city and so you use every oppertunity to take pot shots at the initiative. It's sad that as an elected official you are using your poistion as a bully pulpit.

Keep saying the initiative is to blame for derailing a project that was derailed long before. As you said "After 7 years of working to replace Station 6 we have gotten nowhere while in half that time we will have built a brand new and dramatically better station in East Palo Alto with the full support and assistance of the City of East Palo Alto,"

What's to say you would have gotten anywhere even without the initiative?


Posted by Mike Keenly, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 8, 2014 at 1:08 pm

If only more time was spent on doing, rather than posting and complaining, maybe this issue would be on a path to resolution.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 8, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Brian:

as the article states, Peter need not recuse himself as he has no financial stake in the outcomes.

I've looked at the timeline for the station. It was initially stopped in 2008 due to a bad economy. Last year the district restarted the process of getting the parcels merged and planning approvals. Last year. The city now refuses to calendar the necessary hearings due to the pending vote on the initiative. The cause of the city's refusal to calendar necessary hearing is the Lanza/Fry initiative, nothing else. The stoppage and blame lies at the feet of Lanza/Fry and Savemenlo. Just one of many unintended consequences of a poorly written initiative.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 8, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Brian states - "You should recuse yourself,"
On what grounds? I have no personal financial interest in this issue? District Counsel has stated that there are no grounds for my recusal.
Do you also believe that a public official that signed the petition in support of the initiative should recuse themselves using your logic that they have a 'bias'?

Political leaders take political positions - that is our JOB. I was elected by the people of the Fire District to represent their interests and the facts clearly show that this poorly worded initiative is not in the interests of the citizens of the Fire District.

And as a private citizen I am a strong financial supporter of Menlo Park businesses and I have every right to speak out on issues that impact my community.

When it comes to the actual election I can assure you that I will not vote but I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that those eligible voters who want to vote are well informed about this misguided and poorly worded initiative.

What does Save Menlo start answering this oft repeated and never answered questions:

1 – They say it is wrong to use up most of the office capacity allowed by the Specifc Plan in the first two years and that instead it should be spread out over a 30-year period. If you owned a parcel and wanted to build a totally conforming ten-room home should you be forced to build it one room each year for the next ten years ?

2 – Save Menlo got everything they asked for in its original petition and Stanford agreed to almost all of their demands. So why are you now asking for even more and how much will be enough to satisfy you?

3 – Would Save Menlo Park members be willing to say who they really are? How many members they actually have?

4 – Do you really believe that definitions written today:

""Financial institutions providing retail banking services.This classification includes only those institutions engaged in the on site circulation of money,including credit unions."The foregoing Commercial Use Classification is hereby adopted by the voters"

""Offices of firms or organizations providing professional,executive,management,or administrative services,such as accounting,advertising,architectural,computer software design,engineering,graphic design, insurance, interior design,investment,and legal offices. This classification excludes hospitals, banks,and savings and loan associations."The foregoing Commercial Use Classification is hereby adopted by the voters.

will still be appropriate even five years from now and if they are not that there should be an election to change even one word of such definitions? What about digital age banks that do not engage in the on site circulation of money? What about a firm that wants to design robots?

5 – Who is the lawyer who helped draft this initiative and what other interests does he represent?

6 – Who is funding this effort?

7 – Do Menlo Park citizens realize that under the Mike Lanza/Patti Fry Initiative small property owners on ECR will be restricted to 70% of their current footprint for any new/replacement construction and that the currently permitted construction to their the side lot lines would not be permitted?

8 – Do MP citizens realize that the Mike Lanza/Patti Fry Initiative will prevent the construction of a new fire station serving the downtown area?

9 – Do MP citizens know that signatures are being obtained using paid solicitors?

10 – Do MP citizens know that claims of 6 story buildings being either permitted or proposed under the Specific Plan are simply untrue and that the tallest building proposed by Stanford is only FOUR feet taller than the existing building at the corner of ECR and Live Oak Drive?

11 – Do MP citizens know that a major new hotel project decided not to locate in Menlo Park because of the uncertainties created by the Mike Lanza/Patti Fry Initiative?

12 – What are the other unknown and unintended (or perhaps deliberately intended) consequences of the totally unvetted Mike Lanza/Patti Fry Initiative?

13 – Do MP citizens believe that Mike Lanza, Patti Fry and their anonymous lawyer, without any public comment, without multiple drafts, without a Draft and a Final EIR and without numerous public hearings, are really better able to define the future of your city than are your five elected city council members and your seven appointed planning commissioners and the superb city planning and transportation staff that have all worked diligently and totally in the open to produce the existing Specific Plan?

14 – Do MP citizens know that the traffic levels on ECR were significantly reduced from those permitted by the prior zoning when the Specific Plan was adopted?

15 – Do the MP citizens know that the original Stanford proposal would have produced less traffic than was was permitted by the Specific Plan?

16 – Do the MP citizens know that, as a consequence of the work of the Keith/Carlton subcommittee, that the traffic that would have been produced by the revised Stanford plan was even less than that of the original Stanford plan?

17 – What was the date and the time of the ECR traffic photo being used by Mike Lanza/Patti Fry Initiative campaign?

18- What authority does the Mike Lanza/Patti Fry Initiative campaign have to use the City of Menlo Park's copyrighted logo?

19 – The Planning Commission and the City Council did a review of the Specific Plan last Fall so this raises the question: Which of the 20+ changes to the Specific Plan that are included in the Mike Lanza/Patti Fry Initiative were presented to the Planning Commission and the City Council for their public consideration during the 2013 review of the Specific Plan?

20 - Is this initiative process simply being used to gather names, support and name recognition for Lanza and/or Fry to run for the City Council this year? If it is, will Lanza and Fry reimburse the City for the cost of putting this issue on the ballot.?

21 - Why did Lanza/Fry include the words "or frustrate" in the initiative section 4.2?
"4.2. Consistent with the Planning and Zoning Law and applicable case law, the
City shall not adopt any other new provisions or amendments to the Policy
Planning Documents that would be inconsistent with or frustrate the
implementation of the voter-adopted development standards and
definitions set forth in Section 3, above, absent voter approval of a
conforming amendment to those voter-adopted provisions."

Clearly "would be inconsistent" would have been sufficient so why add "or frustrate"?
Is this simply a Trojan Horse that would allow Save Menlo to forever challenge any change to the DSP?

How can the voters be educated if Save menlo refuses to answer these questions??


Posted by George C Fisher, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 8, 2014 at 1:31 pm

I never suggested to Carpenter that the initiative was a problem. As Patti Fry pointed out during the meeting,the Initiative does not create any problems to rebuilding station 6.

I never suggested to Carpenter that anyone supporting the Initiative would ask the city to obtain voter approval of the new fire station. I did suggest to Carpenter that if he, or the Fire District, wanted to solve any problem claimed by the Initiative, the district could work with the City to simply obtain any voter approval on the next ballot. Problem solving works better than constant attack.

I told him I was confident that the voters would support he Fire Station and approve any request. Carpenter however did not even bring my suggestion up in the meeting after the break. Instead he again focused on the delays by the city beginning even before its adoption of the Specific Plan, and actually minimized any claimed initiative problems, to obtain support for his motion to explore alternatives. Actions speak louder than rhetoric.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 8, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" I did suggest to Carpenter that if he, or the Fire District, wanted to solve any problem claimed by the Initiative, the district could work with the City to simply obtain any voter approval on the next ballot."

And I told George that I was taught years ago that people should clean up their own mess. The initiative created this mess and George has proposed a way to solve it. Now that George has confirmed his proposed solution of a referendum what is he going to do about it? The Fire Board has no power to place such referendum on the ballot. We we will see if the Lanza/Fry supporters really want to clean up the mess created by this unintended consequences of their poorly worded initiative or if the are prepared to stand idly by while this unresolved mess continues. The clock is ticking and Save Menlo needs to clean up their mess.


Posted by Pointing Fingers, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jul 8, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Day one: the Fire District buys the parcel behind station #6 in 2008. There was time then to make sure the parcel was placed in the Specific Plan Area. Who dropped the ball? MP City Staff? The Fire District?

Savemenlo did not exist in 2008 so the answer has got to be one of the above.

Mr Carpenter, look up "referendum." One files a referendum when one wants to change a decision made by an elected body and there is a time frame in which this must be done. Neither the Fire District nor Mr. Fisher has the authority to "file a referendum" on this issue which finds you in yet another snit. As a Director of the Fire District, please continue working with the city to clean up the mess made by the neglect of both the City of Menlo Park and the Fire District.
Could Former MPFPD Director and current Council Member Peter Ohtaki not help you with this effort? Surely, he could make it the center piece for his re-election campaign this fall: getting done that which he neglected in 2010 - 2014.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 8, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If the initiative were to pass it would become the law.
"Article II, Section 9, of the California Constitution provides for the referendum process in California. Electors have the power to approve or reject statutes or parts of statutes, with the exception of urgency statutes, statutes calling elections, and statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for usual, current state expenses."

Therefore, changing a statute by a referendum (referring the matter to the voters) is both what the California Constitution AND the initiative itself call for:

"4.1. Except for as provided at Section 3.4.4 above regarding the City's ability
to approve without voter ratification an amendment to the Specific Plan to
accommodate development proposals that would call for an increase in the
allowable number of residential units under the Specific Plan, the voteradopted
development standards and definitions set forth in Section 3,
above, may be repealed or amended only by a majority vote of the
electorate of the City of Menlo Park voting "YES" on a ballot measure
proposing such repeal or amendment at a regular or special election. The
entire text of the proposed definition or standard to be repealed, or the
amendment proposed to any such definition or standard, shall be included
in the sample ballot materials mailed to registered voters prior to any such
election."

George Fisher had a brilliant idea - I hope that he pursues it with the City Council.


Posted by Morris Brown, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 8, 2014 at 3:09 pm

On page 14 of the Almanac just out:

Web Link

is a letter titled:

Don't blame SaveMenlo for fire station delay

from Patti Fry, essentially refuting all the non-sense that Peter Carpenter (a resident of Atherton, not Menlo Park), continues to write in opposition to the SaveMenlo initiative.

This Fire Station issue is trivial in comparison to the tremendous damage that will be inflicted on the City and degradation of the quality of life for Menlo Park residents, if the Specific Plan is not modified. As I have written before, the Specific Plan is just not working, and needs to be changed. The SaveMenlo initiative is an effort to do just that, and should be supported.

Complainers about how slow the approval process has been on the Fire Station should also realize that our City's leadership could not build a Belle Haven Police sub-station in a much longer period of time than this (must have been over 20 years.)

Finally the last paragraph of Ms. Fry's letter reads as follows:

---------
I encourage all parties to work together to get this important new station approved and built as expeditiously as possible. If improvements to downtown fire safety are delayed further, it is only because that serves the interests of the initiative's opponents.

---------

Support the SaveMenlo Initiative

Morris Brown
a Menlo Park Resident for over 42 years


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 8, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"from Patti Fry, essentially refuting all the non-sense"

Sadly Patti's letter does not refute the problems created by her initiative but rather just denies that such problems exist. Yet she openly acknowledged those problems in her comments to the Fire Board - go watch what she said:

Web Link and start at 7:30

In her letter Fry states "we fully support the Menlo Park Fire Protection District's efforts to modernize its downtown fire station." Yet she then states "The fire district's proposal to
merge two parcels and rebuild the downtown fire station is not restricted by the initiative.
The initiative does not prevent merging these parcels. Moreover, it does not stand in
the way of the city changing its zoning rules as requested by the district for the project. The
initiative does include a map of the specific plan area; this is relevant only for the purpose of showing where new square feet will be counted." Fry needs to read her own initiative which
defines the Downtown ECR are as"
3.1. ECR SPECIFIC PLAN AREA DEFINED. When referring to the
"ECR Specific Plan Area," this initiative measure is referring to the
bounded area within the Vision Plan Area Map located at Page 2, Figure I,
of the El Camino Real/Downtown Vision Plan, accepted by the Menlo
Park city Council on July 15, 2008, which is attached as Exhibit 1 to this
measure and hereby adopted by the voters as an integral part of this
initiative measure.

Her measures then states that NO definitions include in Sec 3 may be changed without the vote of the people:
4.1. Except for as provided at Section 3.4.4 above regarding the City's ability
to approve without voter ratification an amendment to the Specific Plan to
accommodate development proposals that would call for an increase in the
allowable number of residential units under the Specific Plan, the voteradopted
development standards and definitions set forth in Section 3,
above, may be repealed or amended only by a majority vote of the
electorate of the City of Menlo Park voting "YES" on a ballot measure
proposing such repeal or amendment at a regular or special election. The
entire text of the proposed defmition or standard to be repealed, or the
amendment proposed to any such definition or standard, shall be included
in the sample ballot materials mailed to registered voters prior to any such
election.

And just to make sure that no one at the city tries to do anything to somehow change the boundaries of the Specific Plan area her initiative also states:
4.2. Consistent with the Planning and Zoning Law and applicable case law, the
City shall not adopt any other new provisions or amendments to the Policy
Planning Documents that would be inconsistent with or frustrate the
implementation of the voter-adopted development standards and
definitions set forth in Section 3, above, absent voter approval of a
conforming amendment to those voter-adopted provisions.

And just to top it off her initiative also trumps all other city ordinances:
5.1. After this measure becomes effective, its provision shall prevail over and
supersede all provisions of the municipal code, ordinances, resolutions,
and administrative policies of the City of Menlo Park which are inferior to
the Planning Policy Documents and in conflict with any provisions of this
measure.

I have asked again and again for Fry and others to post the exact city ordinances that would permit two adjacent parcels located in different planning zones to be merged. They can't and they won't.

These people either have no idea what exactly this poorly written initiative says or they are simply lying - take your choice.


Posted by move on, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 8, 2014 at 3:49 pm

I am glad a key section of the initiative has been highlighted, "4.2. Consistent with the Planning and Zoning Law and applicable case law, the
City shall not adopt any other new provisions or amendments to the Policy
Planning Documents that would be inconsistent with or frustrate the
implementation of the voter-adopted development standards and
definitions set forth in Section 3, above, absent voter approval of a
conforming amendment to those voter-adopted provisions."

As pointed out by Fry, the rezoning or merging of the fire station parcel to be a Public Facility is not an issue with implementing the initiative. Square feet of open space, office space, and other non-residential space can still be counted on that site.

The city can modify zoning standards such as height and setbacks to support the fire station upgrade. These standards are not affected at all by the initiative.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 8, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"As pointed out by Fry, the rezoning or merging of the fire station parcel to be a Public Facility is not an issue with implementing the initiative."

That is simply factually wrong - PLEASE read the initiative. Fry is now attempting to deny that the initiative will impact the fire station simply because she fully realizes that its impact on the fire station is a persuasive argument against her own initiative.

Nowhere in the initiative does it state that sec 3.1. ECR SPECIFIC PLAN AREA DEFINED applies only to the counting of office square footage. The initiative is ill advised and poorly written.


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